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Beautiful Security: Leading Security Experts Explain How They Think Paperback – May 8 2009
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About the Author
Andy Oram is an editor at O'Reilly Media, a highly respected book publisher and technology information provider. An employee of the company since 1992, Andy currently specializes in free software and open source technologies. His work for O'Reilly includes the first books ever published commercially in the United States on Linux, and the 2001 title Peer-to-Peer. His modest programming and system administration skills are mostly self-taught.
John is CTO of the SaaS Business Unit at McAfee, his second stint at McAfee. Previously, he was their Chief Security Architect, after which he founded and served as CEO of Stonewall Software, which focused on making anti-virus technology faster, better and cheaper. John was also the founder of Secure Software (now part of Fortify).
John is author of many security books, including Building Secure Software (Addison-Wesley), Network Security with OpenSSL (O'Reilly), and the forthcoming Myths of Security (O'Reilly). He is responsible for numerous software security tools and is the original author of Mailman, the GNU mailing list manager. He has done extensive standards work in the IEEE and IETF and co-invented GCM, a cryptographic algorithm that NIST has standardized. John is also an active advisor to several security companies, including Fortify and Bit9. He holds a MS and BA from the University of Virginia.
Inside This Book(Learn More)
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
For me the most interesting chapters were the one with case studies. In this book you will learn how to steal people's credit card numbers at airports (run a cut-rate WiFi access point), how to scan for malicious websites without getting infected (harder than it looks, and a constant battle of measures and countermeasures), and the true history of Pretty Good Privacy, as told by its inventor, Phil Zimmermann (not as lurid as the versions you have probably heard, but still full of twists and turns). You'll learn the going rates for stolen personal and financial information (not that much, so if you're going to steal it, you need to steal a lot) and how to run your own cyber money-laundering network (which seems to be where most of the money and the risk is). Microsoft plays a prominent role in the book, sometimes as hero, sometimes as chump.
The layout and production of the book are very good, and it has a good index (a glossary would have been nice, too). I have a couple of minor gripes: the book is set in itty-bitty type (I measured it at 8 points on 12 point line spacing); and although the book has two editors, the preface is written in the first person singular (apparently by Oram, but this is not stated).
The book's title, "Beautiful Security", was probably modeled on Oram's previous collection Beautiful Code: Leading Programmers Explain How They Think (Theory in Practice (O'Reilly)), but it doesn't really fit the content of this book. Some of the essays mention beauty in the body or the title, but this is usually a token appearance, or is explained as meaning that security should be built in rather than tacked on. The preface states that the purpose of the book is to convince the reader that security is not bureaucratic drudgery but is an exciting career, and I think the book is successful at this.
You'll find plenty of security-related history in the book. Phil Zimmerman's chapter on PGP's Web Of Trust is one example. Pieter Zatko's discussion of his work on the LH0phtCrack is another. Both stories help expose mindsets which, sadly, haven't changed a whole lot.
Security, as with testing or overall quality, is at its most fundamental roots a culture issue. Not every story focuses on this aspect, but pointing out bad culture is a common theme through many of the chapters. Zatko's discussion of "Learned Helplessness," John McManus's Security by Design, and Jim Routh's Forcing Firms to Focus are all great reads on this line. Many of the stories correctly emphasize that security isn't just about someone hacking code - it's a much broader issue.
As with any good security book, there's plenty of well-done content which will likely scare you in to re-thinking how you and your company approach security. Beautiful Security can help you identify practices, problems, and mindsets which leave you, your company, or your clients at risk.
Overall it's a very useful, highly readable book on a critical subject.
A premise of the book is that most people don't give security much attention until their personal or business systems are attacked or breached. The book notes that criminals often succeed by exercising enormous creativity when devising their attacks. They think outside of the box which the security people built to keep them out. Those who create defenses around digital assets must similarly use creativity when designing an information security solution.
Unfortunately, far too few organizations spend enough time thinking creatively about security. More often than not, it is simply about deploying a firewall and hoping the understaffed security team can deal with the rest of the risks.
The 16 essays, arranged in no particular theme are meant to show how fascinating information security can be. This is in defense to how security is often perceived, as an endless series of dialogue boxes and warnings, or some other block to keep a user from the web site or device they want to access. Each of the 16 essays is well-written, organized and well-argued. The following 4 chapter are particularly noteworthy.
Chapter 3 is titled Beautiful Security Metrics and details how security metrics can be effectively used, rather than simply being a vehicle for creating random statistics for management. Security metrics are a critical prerequisite for turning IT security into a science, instead of an art. With that, author Elizabeth Nichols notes that the security profession needs to change in ways that emulate the medical professional when it comes to metrics. She notes specifically that security must develop a system of vital signs and generally accepted metrics in the same way in which physicians work. The chapter also provides excellent insights on how to use metrics and how metrics, in addition to high-level questions that can be used to determine how effective security is within an organization.
Chapter 6 deals with online-advertising and the myriad problems in keeping it honest. Author Benjamin Edelman observed a problem with the online supply chain world, as opposed to brick and mortar (BAM) world, in that BAM companies have long-established procurement departments with robust internal controls, and carefully trained staff who evaluate prospective vendors to confirm legitimacy. In the online world, predominantly around Google AdSense, most advertisers and advertising networks lack any comparable rigor for evaluating their vendors. That has created a significant avenue for online advertising fraud, of which the on-line advertising is a victim to.
Edelman writes that he has uncovered hundreds of online advertising scams defrauding hundreds of thousands of users, in addition to the merchants themselves. The chapter details many of the deceptive advertisements that he has found, and shows how often web ads that tout something for free, is most often far from it.
Chapter 7 is about the PGP and the evolution of the PGP web of trust scheme. The chapter is written by PGP creator Phil Zimmerman, and current PGP CTO Jon Callas. It has been a long while since Zimmerman has written anything authoritative about PGP, so the chapter is a welcome one. Zimmerman and Callas note that while a lot has been written about PGP, much of it though containing substantial inaccuracies. The chapter provides invaluable insights into PGP and the history and use of cryptography. It also gives a thorough overview of the original PGP web of trust model, and recent enhancements bring PGP's web of trust up to date.
Chapter 9 is one of the standout chapters in the book. Mark Curphrey writes about the need to get people, processes and technology to work together so that the humans involved in information security can make better decisions. In the chapter, Curphrey deals with topical issues such as cloud computing, social networks, security economics and more. Curphrey notes that when he starts giving a presentation, he does it with the following quotation from Upton Sinclair -- "it's difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on him not understanding it". He uses the quote to challenge listeners (and readers in this case) to question the reason why they are being presented the specific ideas, which serves as a reminder of common, subtle biases for thoughts and ideas presented as fact.
In its 250 pages, Beautiful Security is both a fascinating an enjoyable read. There are numerous security books that weight a few pounds a use reams of paper, that don't have a fraction of the real content that Beautiful Security has. With other chapters from industry luminaries such as Jim Routh, Randy Sabett, Anton Chuvakin and others, Beautiful Security is a required read.
For those that have an interest in information security or those that are frustrated by it, Beautiful Security is an eye-opening book that will challenge you, and change the way you think about information security. It is a good book for those whose who think information security is simply about deploying hardware, and an even better book for those who truly get information security.
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